Thursday, September 07, 2017

Turretin on the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant

IV. Now as the church is rightly distributed into militant and triumphant, so the distinction between them must be considered not to be essential and specific as to nature but only accidentally as to state and degree. For since there is only one communion of saints and only one body of Christ (Cant. 6:9), as he head by which it is governed is only one and the Spirit by which it is animated only one (Eph. 4:3, 4); so the church in both states is the same, …

V. These two states, however, as so mutually connected by the most wise dispensation of God that they cannot be torn asunder, but necessarily attend and follow each other. Just as no one can be a citizen of the church triumphant who has not given his name before to the militant, nor is anyone crowned in the former with Christ who has not rightly contended with him, so no one is a true member of the church militant here who in his own time will not be carried into the church triumphant; nor is anyone enrolled among believers in grace who will not be received into the choir of the blessed in glory. For whom Christ once received coming to him, he will never cast out (Jn. 6:37), because the bond of our union with him is eternal and indissoluble (adialyton). …

[Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 20.XIII.5; v. 3:633-4]

The Church Militant refers to the Invisible Church on earth, fighting sin, the world and the Devil. The Church Triumphant refers to the Church in heaven, who has won over sin, the world and the Devil. Errors like the Federal Vision attempt to separate the two, such that one can be a member of the Church Militant without being a member of the Church Triumphant, due to covenant breaking. However, Scripture teaches that those who are truly saved are the members of the Church Militant, and will never fall away. Thus, 1 Jn. 2:19 states that those who are "covenant breakers" were never truly in the Church in the first place. They broke the covenant externally- that is true, but they were never actually in it.

The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant are thus two sides of the same coin, in different forms. Until Christ comes again, the two forms are present, since we are living in the period between the Inauguration and the Consummation of the Kingdom of God. When Christ returns, the two will be seen as one, and all who believe in Christ will be gathered as the Church Triumphant, praising God and Christ forever and ever.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The problem with some practical applications in sermons and articles

Sermons and articles, generally speaking, are general in scope. One does not preach to, or at least should not preach to, a particular person. And articles are read by anyone from the public. These forms of communication are public in nature, and thus there is a problem when we speak about practicality in such communication of God's Word.

People come to hear the sermon from various walks of life and various experiences during the week. Similarly, people from all manner of backgrounds and moods may click to or pick up an article to read. The problem with practical applications therefore comes around to this: If the applications are specific, there is a high chance of it being take wrongly by others. This has nothing to do with the motivation of the preacher or the writer, but simply because of the subjective nature of applications. For example, trying to discern the nature of idolatry even to the relationship between husband and wife is something that I will never ever do. But those who want "practical advice" may ask questions on such topics, or pastors may decide to "make the Bible practical" by applying it to the nitty-gritty details of life. However, the more specific an application is, the higher the chance it would be taken wrongly by others. For example, to attempt to discern what kind of emotion is idolatry and what kind of emotion is not idolatry that spouses have for each other, will probably be a stumbling block to those who are more emotional by nature, and cause them needless anguish instead of help and comfort.

It is because of the problems with practical applications that my policy is to keep away from practical applications, especially specific practical applications, in any sermon or article. The place for specific applications is in the one-to-one counseling session, where God's Word can be personally ministered to a person in his particular situation. Anyway, why the rush to be "practical"? Is proclaiming the Word of God insufficient? Saints who are tired from the striving in the world, from their interaction with ungodliness, need an external word from God. We are earth-bound, and during the Lord's Day worship we need to be called away from our worries, to be called to an audience before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The last thing they should desire is to bring the worries of the world into the church. Here, in the meeting of the people of God, is where he can come to worship, as a foretaste of heaven. Here, he hears the Word of God, who comes outside of us (extra nos). The Lord speaks to us out of heaven, so why do we want to think about the things of the world on the Lord's Day especially in the sacred assembly? Perhaps the desire for practical applications is a misunderstanding of what worship on the Lord's Day is about. Or perhaps it is a symptom of the failure of the local church pastor to visit and counsel the flock. Either way, such a desire is not right. We come to the Lord to hear His Word proclaimed. God dictates the matter to be spoken, and how it is to be spoken, by the Spirit through His Word. It is not for us to "make it more practical," but to re-orientate our concerns and priorities according to what Scripture teaches.

As I have said, my (unspoken) policy is to keep away from practical applications, or rather to keep away from applications that are not immediately apparent from the text of Scripture. No doubt there are many with good intentions, but good intentions alone are not sufficient. We should wish not to place undue burdens and hurts upon God's people, and therefore try not to be more "practical" than Scripture.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Turretin on the benefits of the sacraments

V. … Therefore a twofold efficacy is ascribed to the sacraments according to us: the one moral and objective, by which the sacraments make present to our mind that object, to signify and seal which they are destined (by which means, faith is either excited or confirmed and, it mediating, hope and sanctification are increased); the other covenantal, by which God (sealing by the sacraments his promise or covenant) confers the very things promised upon the believing soul or even a greater sense and perception of these already conferred and produces by both greater operations. Hence the sacraments are rightly called exhibitive … a moral exhibition by which that grace is objectively exhibited to the mind and with it, at the same time, really to the believing soul. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 19.VIII.5; v.3:363]

In the Reformed tradition, the ministry of the pastor is called the ministry of Word and Sacrament. That is because it is not just the preaching of the Word that is important for the health of the church, but also the administration of the sacraments. Since it is faith that saves, faith in the Gospel message, the sacraments are not medicine that saves (like health packs in FPS video games). Rather, the sacraments are visible words, exhibiting the Gospel message in a different, more sensory form.

The sacraments are "visible words," which is that they are of the same type as the preaching of God's Word. Just as preaching sets forth and exhibits Christ and the Gospel, so that those who hear and believe will be saved, so likewise the sacraments exhibit Christ and the Gospel, so that those who partake and believe will be saved. Just as preaching puts forward Christ and His benefits for our instruction, discipleship and encouragement, so likewise the sacraments puts forward Christ and His benefits for our instruction, discipleship and encouragement. That is why Turretin calls it a "moral" efficacy, as it influences and moves people through means of exhibiting the message to our mind.

The correct way to partake of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper is to treat them as visible words. Partake in faith, and meditate upon the biblical truths these signs convey as you partake of them. Then, and only then, will you benefit from the sacraments for your encouragement and strength. As you are baptized, or every time you witness a baptism, remind yourself once again of what Christ has done for you on the Cross to save you, and how He has forgiven your sins and united you to Him in faith, so that you are now saved from your sin and given new life in Him. As you partake of the Lord's Supper, remember the atoning death of Christ on your behalf as you partake of the bread, and in the wine thank God you are now under the New Covenant and not under the Old Covenant of Law and Works, so that you are now under grace not works. In such manner, you will derive great benefit for your souls through the sacraments, as God has intended for you to do so.

Friday, September 01, 2017

James White on the Nashville Statement, and Racialism in Reformed circles

Dr James White has done a helpful Dividing Line podcast on two interesting topics: The Nashville Statement, and Racialism in Reformed circles.

The Nashville Statement

The Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has just published a statement on the issue of sexuality in light of the latest devolutions of liberal debauchery, the Nashville Statement. You can access it here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

5 Steps to Embrace People from Another Race or Culture

In light of this, let me offer a better way of thinking on how to interact with those from other ethnicities and/or cultures.

1) Interact with those of other ethnicities with a true and sincere desire to get to them know as PEOPLE

Each individual person is unique; we are not clones from an assembly line. Each person has his or her unique life experiences and struggles. We are not reducible to any Critical Race Construct. Even among the most radical Indentity Politics advocates, none of them are alike in every respect. To treat individual human beings as sociological constructs is insulting, demeaning and dehumanizing.

2) Strive to understand the individual, and strive not to give in to stereotyping

Since we are not sociological constructs but human individuals, we are not defined by stereotypes of various ethnic groups. For example, I am Chinese, and I very much resent if anyone were to think that therefore I must love kung fu and table tennis, just because I am Chinese (I don't care for kung fu and I don't play table tennis). I am also Singapore Chinese, and I very much resent being thought of as if I am no different from China Chinese. Likewise, to say that all whites are immoral sex addicts who love to go to night clubs and sleep around with anyone, or to say that all blacks are violent criminals — all such are stereotyping and should be resisted.

We are not to be defined solely by our groups, of what kind of "otherness" groupings we are a member of. Labels, sociological or otherwise, are tools for sociologists in broad study of society and societal trends, but they make for terrible oppressive labels when used in interpersonal relationships.

To cultivate true friendships, we must reject all such labelings and stereotypings. You are seeking to understand someone, who has his or her own unique life experience. As an aside, should we not wonder when so-called tolerant liberals cannot understand minorities who think differently from what they think minorities ought to think (i.e. black conservatives, "people of color" who reject Critical Race Theory etc.)? That is because they cannot think and interact with people as they truly are! People must conform to their Critical Race theory categories, otherwise they must be "betrayals of their race!" Does this look like an actual desire to get to know people, or another (leftist) form of cultural imperialism?

3) Understand individuals are enculturated in specific cultures which may be foreign to you, but they are not defined only by their cultural backgrounds

Everyone has a culture (white American, white American Southern, black etc.). White culture should not be taken as necessarily the default "correct" culture, as if there can be such a thing! When facing those from different ethnicities, one should seek to attempt to understand his or her culture. One does not have to denigrate one's own culture to do so, as if cultures are in pitched battle where one must win and the other must lose. NO, that is not the case! Reject the entire framework of critical race theory, and stop having this idea of "winners" and "losers" in a cultural and racial war! If you continue to have this idea of cultural and racial warfare, then you cannot interact with others from other ethnicities and cultures without individuals from one culture or both practicing cultural imperialism.

So understand the cultural background of others without denigrating your own. But at the same time, understand that others are enculturated does not imply that their cultural background defines them. Get to know them as individuals, and do not be surprised if they might deviate from established cultural patterns and norms.

4) Understand that individuals may have practices and beliefs that you may shock you, which may be right, partly right or wrong, but suspend judgment for the moment.

Cultures are human constructs, and as such partake of the fallenness of sinful humanity. Therefore, certain cultural beliefs and practices might be sinful. One should not therefore practice cultural relativism and accept different cultural practices as equally legitimate as one's own. At the same time, this applies to all cultures including your own culture. Due to how easy it is to make one's culture the default, judgment of cultural practices should be slow in coming. Get to know and understand your new friend first and foremost, suspending judgment on cultural practices for the moment. Only engage in dialog in humility with a desire for iron to sharpen iron later.

5) Understand their struggles. Do not excuse them for sin, neither discriminate against them for weaknesses, but come alongside them for mutual aid.

Due to sin in the world, it is possible for those from a different culture to struggle with sins and patterns of sin that you do not struggle with. Sin is sin, defined by God. Therefore, there is no excuse for sin, even practiced by those are different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. At the same time, none of us is perfect. Just because you do not struggle with a particular sin or pattern of sin does not imply you are better than another from a different ethnicity. You might after all be struggling with other types of sin which he does not struggle with. Therefore, do not discriminate against someone merely because his struggle is against a different pattern of sin than yours, but come alongside to aid him. As you do so, he should likewise do the same to you, as following the same steps, and in this both parties are mutually edified.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The problem of non-naming as seen in the era of identity politics

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 Jn. 1:9-10)

In much of present society, naming those who are in error is repugnant (with the exception of Trump and white supremacists I suppose). Rather, the person is to be respected while the error rejected. Now, while in some cases, such might be the right course of action, when it comes to accusations and insinuations of sin, such is actually unbiblical and sinful.

In the era of identity politics, vague accusations of sin in the form of "systemic racism" abound. Broad strokes of racial injustice are painted as the original sin of a particular ethnic group or society or nation. But what exactly are these but assault on entire swaths of society and the demonization of entire ethnicities? If there is actual racism, surely racists can be named and racist laws pointed out. But if one deals in generalities, then aspersion is cast upon entire ethnicities, without having the necessity of actually proving that sins exist. After all, when one points out someone from that group is not racist, then the accuser can say that person is not racist but "the system" is. General accusations of sin can be made without the need to prove actual sin exists, since how does one prove a general sin when any counter-evidence is particular?

Thus, while non-naming seems to be "kinder" and more polite, it may not actually be kind and loving. In fact, especially in the era of identity politics where vague general collective accusations are the norm, non-naming actually result in division and the creation of strife between different groups of people. After all, what do you think is going to happen if you start accusing whites of being unjust ("privilege") because of their skin color, which they cannot change? Maybe as a black you suffer real injustice and racism from whites, but are you honestly suggesting the solution is to insinuate that whites are sinful because of their skin color? Oh, but I didn't say that, you might say. But what do you think people will interpret when your polemics against "privilege" IMPLY that whiteness is sinful in some sense? After reading articles that bash "whiteness," are you surprised if people think you are saying that whiteness is sinful? And when people see you giving a pass to racists from your camp while attacking them as racists, why should they think you are nothing more than racists discriminating against them?

Like it or not, how we express ourselves and what we omit is also important. People can and will read between the lines. And people will see vague general accusations against any particular race as condemnation of everyone in that particular race. That is why the idea of "systemic racism" should be rejected. Can there be racist laws and racist policies? Sure! Name them then! Don't hide behind vague accusations of "systemic racism" as if you have the privilege of making accusations which you cannot substantiate. This is where naming is important. Can you imagine if the apostle John wrote that "someone in the church" does not acknowledge our authority, instead of naming Diotrephes? Can you imagine the suspicion that everyone will have, each against his own neighbor, if John were not to name this schismatic? But naming makes the charge concrete. It points to a particular problem, and then when the problem is known, solutions and resolutions can be made to attempt to resolve the problem.

Thus, in the area of sin and accusations of sin, it is better to be specific, not general. And in the case of racism, real or perceived, name the offenders! Are you after all looking for repentance and forgiveness of the offender, or are you more interested in playing the victim and harboring bitterness in your heart? Do you actually want to solve the problems of racial discrimination, or nurture your wounds in a zero-sum game of identity politics so that the entire world can go up in flames in your act of vengeance against those who sin against you? Which do you think is the Christian approach?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Endorsing Reformed racism and the exhaustion of the grievance industry

Racism is sin, because it treats people unequally merely because of their skin color and ethnic belonging. Racism, as a word and as a concept, applies to all, because all humans are made in the image of God. It is not the case that some people retain the image of God, and others do not, but racism is sin because it violates the image of God in Man, all men, everywhere. As a universal concept, racism can apply to anyone from any race or ethnicity, as long as they demand different treatment based upon racial distinctions.

It is in this light that RAAN (Reformed African-American Network) is a racist organization, promoting racism. I am astonished how blind many supposed Reformed people are to racism when it does not fit into the prevailing social paradigm in America. Needless to say, I have yet to hear any coherent argument against the proposition that RAAN is promoting racism. There are many articles one can point to which exists only to affirm a double standard based upon racial "privilege." This tweet and article by Jemar Tisby is only one of the many reprehensible and toxic articles on racial relations ever to be written and endorsed by RAAN.

Having lived as a minority for a time in America, I can see that there is some amount of preferential treatment that whites enjoy. But to understand there are problems does not imply that any proposed solution is good, for bad solutions can worsen the problem instead of resolving it. But look at Tisby's article and you will notice a major toxic core there: that racial discrimination against whites is necessary for blacks to thrive. Or, to put it in a more generic and applicable statement, racial discrimination against the "majority" (whoever they are) is necessary for any minority to thrive. Notice that the question is NOT, "Do blacks have a right to mix with each other in their own gatherings?" It is also not, "Is it normal for blacks to want to socialize with other blacks?" It is also not, "Is it normal for blacks to desire to engage topics in their own way?" Rather, the question is, "Are whites so much to be identified with their race that they are irreversibly tainted with whiteness and therefore are prohibited from certain gatherings of blacks?"

It is perfectly normal for a person to desire company with those they share more affinity to, socially and culturally and otherwise. It is perfectly normal that some groups of friends might be exclusive in their gatherings, for after all friendship is personal and private. But if the gathering is not a closed gathering of friends or of a society, then to say that it is open to all of a certain race but not to those of other races is the very definition of racism.

What makes Tisby's article even worse is his rationale for such racial gatherings. Tisby's rationale is that racial integration (which is supposed to be a good thing, is it not?) is emotionally draining and thus "safe spaces" are necessitated as a result. Remember, we are not merely speaking about the need to meet other blacks, or enjoy black culture. We are speaking of the need to segregate into safe spaces to refresh oneself. Why is integration so exhausting? Can you imagine Tisby in heaven telling Jesus he needs to segregate with other blacks for some time of refreshment? If that sounds ridiculous, that is because it is. But why is integration so stressful?

The reason why integration is so stressful for those who reject overt racism (e.g white supremacy), is because they have bought into Critical Race Theory and its accompanying grievance industry. When someone buys into Critical Race Theory, suddenly one sees racism and injustice everywhere. One has been "woke" into an altered reality where everything is interpreted in racial and racial grievance categories. A white barista treating a black customer rudely? That's racism! Nevermind that the barista has a bad day and is treating everyone (white and black and everyone else) rudely! Policeman roughing up a black guy? That's definitely racism. Nevermind that particular cop is also black! The outrage meter has been dialed up to near maximum on a regular basis, and everyday becomes one day away from a holocaust of black people. It is no wonder that those like Tisby gets exhausted! This is no way to live a life! But this exhaustion is totally the fault of Tisby and other racial justice warriors' doing; it is self-inflicted. But just because it is self-inflicted, does it mean that Tisby and the Racial SJWs will stop their hysteria? I doubt it. I would love for the day when they and their supporters individually and collectively repent of their racism and reject Critical Race Theory, but, barring a miracle, I do not think that will happen anything soon.

How did I for example live life in the United States? I mix with those of other races, and I do not demand "safe spaces" where whites or all non-Chinese are not welcome. If I desire to celebrate ethnic festivals like Chinese New Year, I do not exclude others from joining but rather invite them to join in whatever I have planned. Ethnic and cultural differences can be celebrated with others without excluding others because of their skin color or ethnicity.

What is the best way to interact with others different from you in terms of ethnicity and culture? Get to know them as PERSONS and do not prejudge them. That is all! We do not need 5 steps of tiptoeing around the social construct of "otherness" to do that! Each of us is a human being, not a Critical Race social construct! Do not let the Reformed racists ruin true interactions with those different from you, with their dialed-up hysteria, racial collectivism, and manufactured and imputed guilt and/or righteousness!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

White Supremacy is sin!

Over in America, alt-right white supremacists have decided to make their presence known in a very ugly way. Now, racism is sin, no matter who is the offender. It doesn't matter if the racist is of a majority or a minority race; sin is sin.

America is a very divided country. A sizable portion of the minority especially black population are all too willing to attack racism, real or perceived, from the majority whites. Even worse is where racist social theories (critical race theory) are utilized to promote racism against the majority, as what we have seen with RAAN (Reformed African-American Network).

On the other side however are diverse peoples including those who are sincerely fed-up with the racial blackmail organizations like RAAN is doing. But then there are real racists also in what is often termed the alt-right — real white racists. (It is almost as if someone wanted to confirm all the stereotypes RAAN has created of whites, and actually become real racists. OK, that last sentence was in jest).

As I have said, racism is sin no matter who does it and to whom. White supremacy, or white racism is sin. In fact, due to historical circumstances, it is the most remembered sin in modern history. White racism is disgusting, and its "theological" error kinism (the idea that one should only mix with one's "race" or "kin" - against miscegenation) is utterly repugnant. One should not be partisan on such matters. Just because RAAN is racist does not mean that white racists are to be excused. Both are to be denounced when they promote racism. Those who excuse RAAN while denouncing white supremacists, and those who denounce RAAN while excusing white supremacists, are not truly for racial equality and "racial reconciliation," but partisan hacks.

Racism is sin. And as long as racial differences continue to persist, there is a need to guard ourselves against it. God made all nations from one man, Adam, and there are no superior or inferior "races." All are made in the image of God, and racism is an assault against that image of God.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Turretin and justification by works (Law/ Gospel)

II. … For as there are two covenants which God willed to make with men—legal and evangelical. Accordingly there is also a double justification or a double method of standing before God in judgment—legal and evangelical. The former consists in one’s own obedience or a perfect conformity with the law, which is in him who is to be justified; the latter in another’s obedience or a perfect observance of the law, which is rendered by a surety in the place of him who is to be justified—the former in us, the latter in Christ. Concerning the first, Paul says, “Not the hearers, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13); and “Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law. That the man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5). Concerning the other, he says, “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16, 17); and “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Concerning both, he says, “That I may be found in Christ, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ” (Phil. 3:9; cf. also Rom. 9:30, 31). Hence a twofold justification flows: one in the legal covenant by one’s own righteousness according to the clause, “Do this and live”; the other in the covenant of grace, by another’s righteousness (Christ’s) imputed to us and apprehended by faith according to the clause, “Believe and thou shalt be saved.” Each demands a perfect righteousness. The former requires it in the man to be justified, but the latter admits the vicarious righteousness of a surety. The former could have place in a state of innocence, if Adam had remained in innocence. But because after sin it became impossible to man, we must fly to the other (i.e, the gospel), which is founded upon the righteousness of Christ. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.16.II.2]

We notice here that Turretin holds to the strongest version of the Law-Gospel distinction. Note also the proof texts Turretin utilizes, which are the texts that those of us who hold to the Law-Gospel distinction have likewise used to support our position. Romans 2:13 was appealed to to speak of the principle of the covenant of works, not as how some contemporary theologians have interpreted as speaking of spirit-filled obedience.

It is thus Reformed to speak of justification by works. The question is not whether we are justified by works, but whose works. The Reformed position is that we are justified by Christ's work, not ours. Christ did everything, and then imputed his righteousness to us through faith. Therefore, believers' justification is through faith because of Christ, and thus the Gospel is one where no one can merit salvation even one bit.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Turretin contra the Amyraldian offer of the Gospel

LII. Although by the preaching of the gospel, God offers Christ to the called with his benefits, it does not follow that he must have died for them in order that the offer may not be insincere. He is not offered absolutely and simply, but under the condition of faith and repentance; not as a narrated truth which, whether believed or not, always remains true, but as a promised truth which is ascertained to be true only when its condition is complied with (as Cameron declared). From this it follows that there is an indissoluble connection between faith and salvation and that all are bound to faith who wish to enjoy Christ and his benefits, and who are called to Christ; but that God, by his eternal and immutable decree, has destined Christ to be the Savior of all who are called or that he intended that Christ by his death should acquire eternal salvation for each and every man, can in no way be inferred from this call. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.14.XIV.52]

Friday, August 04, 2017

Turretin: Why was the Father not incarnated

V. (2) The Father could not be incarnated, for as he was the first in order he could not sent by anyone or act a mediator to the Son and the Holy Spirit. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.13.IV.5]

According to Turretin, the ad intra ordering (ταξις) of the Father as first is the reason why the Father (ad extra) is not incarnated, but the Son, by virtue of being second, was incarnated.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Turretin on Natural Law

VI. But the orthodox speak far differently. They affirm that there is a natural law, not arising from a voluntary contract or law of society, but from a divine obligation being impressed by God upon the conscience of man in his very creation, on which the difference between right and wrong is founded and which contains the practical principles of immovable truth (such as: “God should be worshiped,” “parents honored,” “we should live virtuously,” “injure no one,” “do to others what we would wish them to do to us” and the like). Also that so many remains and evidences of this law are still left in our nature (although it has been in different ways corrupted and obscured by sin) that there is no mortal who cannot feel its force either more or less. Now they wish this law to be called natural, not because it has its origin from bare nature (since it depends upon God the supreme lawgiver), but because it becomes known from the aspect of creatures and the relation of man to God, and the knowledge of it is impressed upon the mind by nature, not acquired by tradition or instruction. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.11.I.7]

VIII. Thus the origin and foundation of this law ought not to be sought (as the Jews falsely seek it) from “the seven precepts” which they maintain were given to Adam and Noah …

IX. But it must be drawn from the right of nature itself, founded both on the nature of God, the Creator (who by his holiness must prescribe to his creatures the duties founded upon that right), and on the condition of rational creatures themselves (who, on account of their necessary dependence upon God in the genus of morals, no less than in the genus of being, are bound to perform or avoid those things which sound reason and the dictates of conscience enjoin upon them to do or avoid)

X. The right of nature … strictly and properly for that which has reference only to rational creatures. The lawyers include this under the laws of nations. It is rightly described by common practical notions, or the light and dictation of conscience ..[Ibid., 2.11.I.8-10]

XXII. If it is asked how this natural law agrees with or differs from the moral law, the answer is easy. It agrees as to substance and with regard to principles, but differs as to accidents and with regard to conclusions. … [Ibid., 2.11.I.22]

Looks like Turretin is far from a Neo-Kuyperian on the issue of natural law.

Turretin on the will of God in relation to moral acts

VII. God is not under any moral duty outwardly because he is a debtor to no one, and there is no cause out of him which can place him under obligation. Yet he can be under obligation inwardly because he is a debtor to himself and cannot deny himself. As the Son, in divine thins, is obliged to work by the Father, and the Father is obliged to love the Son, so in external acts (supposing the creature to be produced), God cannot but command him and give him just and holy precepts. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.3.XVIII.7]

God is "ex lex" (outside the law), externally. But God is not some arbitrary person, but God has/ is His own nature. Therefore, while God is externally not under obligation, yet internally He cannot but will according to His own nature.

Therefore, heretics like Vincent Cheung are in error because, in calling God the "author of sin," one of his errors is in divorcing God's will from his nature. Cheung is an extreme nominalist, and that is why his god can be the author of sin and yet totally exonerated from the guilt of sinning.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Actual vs hypothetical possibilities

What makes something possible? Is there a difference among differing possibilities? Is it possible for a lawyer to have taken a different path in the past and become a doctor instead? Or is it possible for someone to born a girl instead of a boy? Or perhaps is it possible for the world to have a different value of the speed of light? Or, what about whether it is possible for the elect to lose their salvation? As it can be seen, all these are "possibilities" in the sense of what can be conceived in the mind, but they are different types of possibilities. The possibility of a different career path depends on decisions made by the person in the past. The second possibility depends on the genotype of the sperm fertilizing the egg (X instead of Y). The third possibility is a variation of the "possible worlds" or "multiverse" hypothesis (a concept which need not really and physically exist except conceptually) The fourth possibility however does not seem to possible, but it is something that can be conceived in the mind, so is it a real possibility?

For those who believe in Scripture and the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, the reason why the fourth possibility does not seem to be a possibility is due to the biblical teaching that God will certainly preserve those whom He calls and saves. John 6:44 states, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." The God who calls a person to salvation will raise him up on the last day. Therefore, how can it be said that the elect have a possibility that they can lose their salvation?

So let us just look at this one particular example here. Is there any sense in which losing salvation is a possibility? And here we must say that, in any actual sense, there is no possibility of the losing of salvation. But yet, according to nature, the elect have no infallible principle placed into them that will make perseverance certain. The elect are not suddenly changed to become like the holy angels, never thinking of not sinning or running away from God. In other words, while God's promise of perseverance is present, everything else in nature and the world seem to indicate otherwise. Professing believers apostatize from the faith, even those that at one time were fervent for the Lord. Others suffer with great doubt over their faith, while on the other spectrum yet others claim to have infallible assurance of their salvation while living like the Devil. The world, this real world, does not seem to make everything so nicely cut and dry, does it?

So is losing one's salvation a possibility? According to God's word, it is not. Looking with the eyes of faith even at the brokenness of this world, we can also say not, since what we see is seldom the heart of the person who claims faith. But from the perspective of nature and the realities of this world, we can say that losing one's salvation is a possibility in this sense: that if it were not for God's promise and God's Spirit, the elect could really lose their salvation. As Mark 13:22 states concerning the false wonders of the false messiahs, these were done to, "lead astray, if possible, the elect." In other words, the elect losing their salvation is a real possibility were it not for the fact of God's promise and the Spirit preserving the elect. Thus, the elect losing their salvation is a possibility, not a real possibility, but what I would call a "hypothetical possibility."

A real possibility refers to something that might happen if something else were or were not the case. It regards things that are variables that could be otherwise in other possible worlds. A hypothetical possibility however refers to something that is possible provided some other principle were to be suspended. In the case of the perseverance of the saints, the principle to be suspended is the intention of God to fulfill His promise, and this principle is necessary in all possible worlds. Hypothetical possibilities are therefore truly hypothetical, in the sense that there is no possible world where they can be realized. Hypothetical possibilities are however different from logical contradictions, like "square circles" or "God creating a stone so heavy He cannot lift it." Hypothetical possibilities are possibilities as they can be conceived, and can be actualized if the principles holding them back (as it were) were suspended.

Thus, in the discussion concerning reprobation, I made the observation that it is a hypothetical possibility that a creature that is reprobated would not be condemned if he did not sin. This is a hypothetical possibility because it is natural and necessary for any fallen creature to sin. But having this hypothetical possibility is meant to show anyone who is interested that God does not just dump innocents into hell, or that He sends people to hell before they have sinned. In the attack against Suprelapsarianism for example, the charge is made that Suprelapsarianism makes God send people on the path of hell even before they are considered sinners. But this charge ignores the two-step process of reprobation, and the hypothetical possibility of the non-damnation of the reprobate, and therefore does not stick. Yes, Supralapsaranism has God electing and reprobating prior to the decree to permit the Fall, but in the decree, reprobation is made to be fully executed only after the Fall (after fallen men sin). The decrees have built-in "clocks" as it were, to be implemented in execution when the conditions within the decree are fulfilled.

This distinction between actual and hypothetical possibility therefore has great hermeneutical potential. Instead of just thinking of things actual and things possible, we should perhaps think of things actual, things actually possible, and things hypothetical possible. Using such categories would aid us greatly in understand concepts like warning against apostasy as something addressing a possibility for the elect (hypothetical possibility), without making such warnings about questioning the salvation of the elect (Arminianism), or stating that they are simply hot air and worrying over nothing, since the elect can never actually fall away (simplistic reasoning by some Calvinists).

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Turretin: Christianity is not fatalism, and God is not the author of sin

V. … For since they [Stoics –DHC] are said commonly to place a necessity out of God in the perpetual and eternal connection of things, we place it in God himself and his eternal decree. They subject God to necessity, we subject necessity to God. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.6.II.5]

XVII. The predetermination of God in evil acts is not repugnant to his permission because they are not occupied about the same things. The former regards the substance of the act, the latter, however, its wickedness; the former reaches the material (effecting it), but the latter the formality (leaving it to the free will of man, which alone is the deficient moral cause). For as in an evil act, there is, as it were, a twofold formal relation (one having the relation of effect, the other having the relation of defect), God can move and predetermine to that which has the relation of effect, but can only permit the other which has the relation of defect. [Ibid., 1.6.VI.18]

Friday, July 14, 2017

Turretin: God does not will to save those He will not save

XIX. Third, if God has a universal will to save all, it is either absolute or conditional. If absolute, all will actually be saved; if conditional, he wills either to effect the condition necessary to salvation in men or only to exact it. If only to exact it, he does not will and intend the salvation of such by exacting from them an act which he knew to be impossible to man. Again, that condition will certainly be about to come to pass or certainly not about to come to pass. If the former, each and every man will certainly be saved; if the latter, God would be made to will vehemently that which he nevertheless well knew would never take place (as depending upon a condition such that it never would come to pass in this respect because he himself, who alone can, does not will to effect it). Now if it does not belong to a wise man to will anything under a condition which he knows to be impossible, how much less can this be attributed to the most wise God? [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.4.XVII.19]

Turretin: Election not based on foreseen faith

XXII. Third, if election is from foreseen faith, God must have foreseen it in us: either as an act of nature proceeding from us, or as an act of grace depending on God, or as a common act, arising conjointly from both (partly from God, partly from man). If as an act of God, he foresaw is therefore as his own gift (i.e. decreed by him from election) Thus it would follow, not precede election. IT as an act of nature we therefore elected ourselves (contrary to Paul, 1 Cor. 4:7), Pelagius gains the victory. If as a common act, either the act of God takes its form from the act of man (and so man would be the architect of his own salvation and could sacrifice to his own net, since he would bring to his own salvation the principal part) or the act of man takes its form from the act of God (and so election will be the case of faith, not the contrary). We must either ascend with the Scriptures to God discriminating among men by his own gift, or descend with Pelagius to man discriminating himself by his own free will (for there can be no middle way). [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.4.XI.22]

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

What is reprobation?

XVII. The election of some being supposed, the preterition of others follows. By this he [God] not only was unwilling to confirm them in good, but decreed to permit their sin. The fall taking place, he decreed to leave them in and condemn them on account of their sin. Their reprobation to this is referred. It is also contained in two acts: one negative (dereliction in the fall); the other affirmative (damnation to eternal punishment). ... [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology. 1.4.8.17]

What is reprobation? Reprobation is God's active decree to pass by some (all those whom He did not elect unto salvation) and decree them to eternal damnation. Reprobation, like election, is unconditional. As it condemns people to hell even before they were created in time, it seems to imply injustice in God. That is why Paul had to write Romans 9:14-24, as reprobation seems to be unjust. After all, how can God punish someone before they have even done good or bad?

When one looks more closely at the doctrine of reprobation however, it can be seen that at least some of the concern is misplaced. Reprobation is made up of two parts: Pretertion and Damnation. In preterition, God passed over those whom He did not elect. In damnation, God condemns to hell reprobate sinners because of their sin. Thus reprobation is not conditioned upon the sinner, but at the same time, sinners will never be condemned to hell apart from their sins. It is hypothetically possible for a creature to be passed over (preterition) but not condemned if that creature did not sin, and thus not be sent to hell. It is however not actually possible for any human to only be passed over without being damned, because all Man have fallen in Adam and thus all Man would have and will sin. Thus, God's decree of reprobation will have worked out in preterition and damnation for all of the reprobate, all without exception, and yet there would certainly be no injustice with God.

There is no such thing as a conditional decree of God

VIII. It is one thing to maintain that God has not decreed to save anyone except through legitimate means; another that the decree to save these or those persons through legitimate means is conditional and of uncertain event (which the adversaries feign). ...

IX. It is one thing for the thing decreed to be conditional; another for the decree itself. The former we grant, but not the latter. There can be granted an antecedent cause or condition of the thing willed, but not immediately of the volition itself. Thus God wills salvation to have the annexed condition of faith and repentance in the execution, but faith and repentance are not the condition or cause of the act of willing in God, nor of the decree to save in the intention.

[Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology. 1.4.3. 9-10]

Is the Gospel conditional or is it not? Is salvation conditional? The answers given by many people nowadays are incoherent, because they have lost the clarity of thought that characterized Reformed Scholasticism. Those like the PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America) in their attack against the "conditional covenant" showed forth their theological incoherence as they simultaneously attacked the idea that there are conditions in the Covenant of Grace, yet will defend that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation (which would make "faith in Jesus Christ" a condition). Others like the Federal Vision will state openly that faith is necessary and thus a condition in the Covenant of Grace, then like Norman Shepherd assert that conditionality implies humans are to fulfill those conditions, thus undermining the "faith not works" principle of the Gospel and the Covenant of Grace. In both of these examples, failure to think clearly and logically result in theological error and incoherence, with further implications for the lives of believers as they are worked out (either in Legalism or Antinomianism).

In contrast to such confusion in the modern broadly Reformed sphere, Turretin's clarify shines forth. There is no such thing as a "conditional decree" or a "conditional covenant," but there are conditions within God's decree and covenant. Faith is a condition, but faith is conditioned as absolutely decreed, not as a decree that is conditioned upon Man having faith. This is the clarity we need to reject the errors in our time in the Reformed sphere of churches, and keep to the narrow path of orthodoxy.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Who is the Spiritual Man? - 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Here is last week's sermon on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, dealing with the topic of who is the spiritual man, as opposed to the "carnal" or "worldly" man.

Language and the problem of discourse

1) These Terms Are Ideologically Loaded

They’re not ‘value-neutral’.

When words like ‘patriarchal’, ‘privilege’, and ‘gender-inequality’ are used, they don’t merely describe a state of affairs: they also evaluate it.

...

What’s more, when you introduce ideologically loaded jargon, the evaluation is already assumed – it’s smuggled in, as it were, underneath our worldview radar. For example, what secular ideology means by ‘oppression’, is often different to what the Bible means by ‘oppression’. It is of concern that when this language is used, we rarely see any corresponding discussion of particular Biblical passages, arguing whether such evaluations are true to the Bible. (And when these Scriptural discussions do happen, they tend to be secondary rather than primary.) Importing this type of jargon into our discussions with each other means that, if we’re not careful, we can uncritically swallow the non-Biblical worldview.

[Akos Balogh and Dani Treweek, "Christian Discusson and Feminism: Here's What We're Getting Wrong," TGC Australia Blog (30th June 2017), here]

"When did you stop beating your wife?" For an ordinary couple, there is no right answer to that question, because the husband did not even begin to beat his wife in the first place. Questions like these are loaded questions, complete with many assumptions that attempt to sway the direction of discourse, in that particular case, into a presumption of guilt of wife-beating on the part of the one questioned.

Likewise, terms and phrases are not necessary value-neutral. Utilizing terms such as "patriarchal," "privilege" and all other "social justice" terms are likewise not value-neutral. These terms have assumptions built into them that will direct the framing of discourse concerning these topics, even for those who might disagree with them. Utilizing these terms predisposes the users towards the theories in which these terms originate, and thus it should not be too surprising for example that people who utilize the terms "social justice" and "racial inequality" tend to veer left and socialist, while those who use the terms "welfare" and "charity" tend to veer right. None of these terms are value-neutral: "social justice" has the connotation that one is righting a social wrong in pursuing it (which should also be or become illegal), while "charity" has the connotation that what one is doing is done out of love and grace and the recipient totally does not deserve the charitable action, not even if coming from the State. As is clearly seen in this example, although these terms are used to refer to approximately the same thing (from the center), adopting either of these terms clearly slant the manner of discourse concerning the subject matter.

It is therefore very important not just to believe in truth, but also to know how to believe in truth. That is also why, while doctrine is propositional, it cannot be reduced to propositions only. It is why we have to watch over the manner of our discourse, and refuse to utilize loaded words from the world without scrutinizing these terms according to the Scriptures.

Just to take one more example, the word "privilege" when applied to social situations has the connotation that the difference between those who have "privilege" and those who do not have "privilege" is a matter of social injustice that must be corrected by the use of the law. It doesn't matter even if one were to attempt to take the term out of the context of Critical Race Theory, for as long as it is used to refer to the same sociological phenomenon, it retains that connotation. The only way it could lose that connotation is to take the position that "privilege" is natural and to be celebrated, something no social justice warrior on the left would ever conceive of, and a position that defeats the entire choice of adopting the word "privilege" in the first place!

On the theological front, language is even more important, if that were possible. The classic case of the need for theological precision is the Nicene distinction between "same essence" (ὁμοουσιαν) and "like essence" (ὁμοιουσιαν), where the difference between orthodoxy and heresy is the presence or absence of a single iota. But beyond the need for precision is establishing the language of discourse about how we are to talk about God and about Christ. Without the final framework of the meaning of "essence" (οὐσια), "hypostasis" (ὑποστασις), and "person" (πρωσοπον), thus establishing a proper manner of discourse concerning the doctrine of God and of Christ, Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy would be unable to be established.

Our manner of discourse can never be a value-neutral thing. This is not to suggest absolute postmodern relativism concerning words and their meaning, but rather to have a more chastened realism concerning the nature of language. As we deal with social, philosophical, theological and even scientific discourse, we should realize the value-imbued meaning of various words, and then decide whether these are suitable words to be used in the context of Christian discourse.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

On Critical Race Theory

What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)? Over at the Harvard Law Record, a student-run newspaper, Bill Barlow has written a succinct description of what Critical Race Theory is, here. As it can be seen, Critical Race Theory is just racism (of the "minority" against the "majority"), or "reverse racism" (discrimination against real and perceived racism). It is something that nobody who is actually interested in equality should be promoting. Yet we know that CRT is being promoted by Progressives, and even worse, by organizations such as RAAN (Reformed African-American Network).

One of the many problems with those pushing such nonsense is that they treat people as their "race" not as individuals. They do not care to actually get to know individuals first, but rather they see everything through the lens of "race" before anything else. After "race" of course comes ideology. Thus, whites have to "confess" their "privilege" all the time, and be an "ally," before they can be accepted by blacks for example. Those who refuse to buy into such nonsense are by default "racists" and "bigots," without any regard for how they actually treat those who are different from them.

Among many reasons, this is a reason why Christians ought not to buy into CRT in any form. The solution to discrimination (real or perceived) is not more discrimination. The solution to racism is not more racism, in the opposite direction. An eye for an eye, and the whole world becomes blind! The solution is have true equality, color-blindness, which does NOT imply that minority cultures are unimportant but that all (both majority and minority) are to be treated equally before others and before the law.

Even to utilize their language is problematic, because the language itself partake of the racial tones of CRT. To use the word "white privilege" or even "Chinese privilege" is already to state something in racial tones, which is racist. There is no redemption of CRT terms possible, just as there can be no redemption of terms such as "Racial Hygiene."

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The pilgrim context of not living by "bread alone"

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. (Deut. 8:3-5)

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by our Daily Bread. OK, bad pun. But the point is how often we, and Evangelicalism as a whole, have taken what is truly deep and rich and trivialize it into cheap piety saleable to the masses. From a pietist background, how else should we think about showing our dependence upon God and His Word than in spending 5 minutes of each day reading shallow "Christian" drivel and calling it a devotion? And then we wonder why is that Christianity is not practical, or that this daily reading seems more like ritual than actual true enjoyment. Perhaps the problem is because we have trivialized God's Word, and make the reading of God's Word into something more like the reading of inspirational sayings. In fact, for some "pastors" like Joel Osteen, there is no real difference between what He says and the inspirational sayings of self-help gurus!

The real context of the phrase that "Man shall not live by bread alone" is not in a time of comfort and ease. Many people might think the Exodus was a great time of deliverance from slavery, and that is true. But many people do not consider the costs of the Exodus, as if deliverance is such an enjoyable event. It is not! In leaving Egypt, Israel thrusts herself into the unknown. Her calendar was disrupted, one's daily routine in life is disrupted. The food has changed, there is no permanent home, and everything seems to be settled upon the whim of one man's decrees, a man that none of them have elected to be their leader. When Israel cried to return to Egypt, it is not so much that they love slavery, but that Egypt offered stability and certainty. But what certainty or stability do they have with Moses in the wilderness? And while it is true that God is leading His people, for most of Israel most of the time, since God is unseen, the earthly impression is that of an unelected dictator telling them where to go, what to do, and how to worship. And if any of them object, like Korah, supernatural punishments and plagues will come upon them (Num. 16).

The context of Deuteronomy 8 therefore is one of destabilization. God removed the pillars of stability of Israel's life, such that they have nothing whatsoever to depend on but God alone. This is the context of the phrase "Man shall not live by bread alone," not the idea that it is a good thing to get daily "spiritual nourishment" through 5 minutes of devotion every day. It it for those whom God has brought to the end of themselves, so that they will say

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:25-26)

And we respond, like Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," (Jn. 6:68b).

Deuteronomy 8:3-5 itself shows us that it is God's discipline that brings us to Himself. He Himself removes our pillars of support and security, because we have made them into idols and put our trust in them. We have put our trust in job security, in having peaceful lives (as if God owes us peace), relatively just government (as if God owes you a good government), and for Singaporeans, our CPF. Those are the crutches and idols in our lives that take the place of Christ, and that is why it is hard for people to trust in Christ, because we have become too comfortable. We have taken God's blessings of health and prosperity and made them into a curse upon our souls. And thus we cannot say that we have learned dependence upon God, because we have not. We trust in all the other things God has given, and think we are entitled to them. If God were to remove them, we curse God for taking any of them away from us, as if we are entitled to all these things. And then we ask how we can make Christianity practical to us! Ever read the story of the rich young ruler? Unfortunately, many Evangelicals are just like that rich young ruler, someone who is looking for something he can do to make himself better, but unwilling to let God actually touch the things He puts His trust and security in.

It is only in times of trials and tribulations that the worth of a man's faith is made manifest. When God begins to shake your life, will you, following the advice of Job's wife, curse God and die? Or will you surrender what God has blessed you with, acknowledging that it is God who gives, and God who also takes away, and regardless of what happens, God is to be blessed. Can you therefore say that you have learned to not live by bread alone but by the Word of God?

Christ of course is the fulfilment of this passage, as He took our punishments on our behalf and live the righteous life, with trials and tribulations, for us. But this does not imply that God is no more disciplining His children. We continue to need to learn this lesson of trusting in God alone, not for our salvation but for our sanctification. Those whom God loves He disciplines, and conversely those whom the Lord does not discipline, He does not love. True Christians living in this life will face trials and tribulations, and much sorrow, as God disciplines us for our good. We will slowly learn from experience what it is to trust in God alone, and thus, like Israel, learn that man is not to live by bread alone but by the Word of God.

Christology and Theology conundrum

A claim about the incarnate Son—particularly a claim about the relationship of the incarnate Son to the Father—may be a trinitarian proposition, but it may also be a christological assertion. To take a classic example, well worked through in patristic thought, when we hear Jesus pray, either in Gethsemane or in the high-priestly prayer of John 17, we necessarily hear the authentically human voice of the incarnate Son pleading with God, not an internal triune dialogue between the eternal Father and the eternal Son. [Stephen R. Holmes, "Classical Trinity: Evangelical Perspective," in Jason S. Sexton and Stanley N. Gundry, eds., Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 44]

When Jesus prays to the Father, is it an intra-Trinity dialogue? According to Holmes, who claims the support of the Church Fathers, it is the human voice of Jesus praying to God the Father, not the Second person of the Trinity praying to the First person of the Trinity. Now, of course it is admitted that the voicing of the prayer in human words and language is necessarily human, but is the prayer also "human"?

The problem it seems to me comes down to Christology. The Christian position has always been Christ is one person with two natures and two wills. The "two wills" is meant to safeguard the fact that Christ has two natures, in the sense that a nature comes with a will, and thus Christ having two wills safeguards the fact that Christ is both fully human and fully divine, not a mixture of the two in any sense. But orthodox Christology has similarly deny that a nature is its own actor, as if Christ has two separate wills in him warring over what to do. Christ is one actor, thus one person. Unlike humans who have one nature and thus our persons, natures and wills coincide, Christ's two natures are in one person and thus one act of willing (through two wills of course). The view that Christ's natures can subsist independent of His one person can be considered to be some variant of Nestorianism, which holds that Christ is two persons, two natures and two wills.

Thus, in embracing Chalcedon, it seems that we must reason in light of this orthodox doctrine of Christ's one person. Christ's natures are not personalized in any way, but rather it is Christ who acts according to either of his natures in whatever He does. In other words, Christ in His person is the actor, not His natures. Natures don't act, but persons do. Therefore, while it can be said in a human action that Christ acts to, for example, eat His lunch, according to His human nature, yet it is the one person of Christ who chooses to eat His lunch. Yes, such human actions are done according to His human nature. BUT, it is Christ's person who does so, according to His human nature.

What this implies for Holmes' interpretation of Christ's prayer is that we have a real problem here. According to Holmes' interpretation, which claims patristic support, Jesus' prayers on earth was done according to His human nature. So far, so good. But since Christ's natures don't act, it is Christ's one person that chooses to act according to His human nature. Or to emphasize, it is Christ's ONE PERSON who acts. In other words, yes, we hear the "authentically human voice of the incarnate Son pleading with God." But it is also the authentic voice of the one person of the SON who is pleading with God the Father. So, since it is the one and same person of the Son whether He is incarnated or not, does it really change the fact so that such interactions are not somehow intra-triune dialogues? The person of the Son remains the same pre-incarnated or incarnated. So why does the incarnation somehow makes the dialogue between the Father and the Son no longer an intra-triune dialogue?

Seeing as how Holmes claim patristic support, it is possible that such a conundrum was addressed by any of the Church Fathers. However, based so far on what I have read, I do not see how this rejection of the presence of intra-triune dialogues in time can be maintained. Not to mention that this idea of reading the Gospel accounts does not seem to me a natural way of reading Christ's interaction with His Father, which does suggest a genuine interpersonal relational interaction between God the Father and God the Son, rather than the triune God with the human nature of Christ.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The problem of reversed virtue

In my latest sermon, one point that I had made, but did not elaborate too much on, was in my second point concerning the problem of what I would call "reverse virtue." Due to the growing progressive liberal trend in Western society, cultural Marxism has infiltrated mainstream American society, such that Marxist ideas have become the trendy thing. In Latin America, Marxism in its various forms have long been influential, resulting in much devastation to the region (see e.g. today's Venezuela, also Argentina under Peron). Liberation Theology is the Marxist reading of theology, and its religious idea of "God's preferential favor towards the poor" has followed closely upon the heels of cultural Marxism, the latter infecting society while the former infecting religious thinkers and activists. Thus today in Western society, neologisms such as "white privilege," "confess your privilege," "woke" among other redefined terms have redefined social discourse, all for the worse.

The problem with Liberation Theology and contemporary Social Justice Warrior (SJW) religious Marxism (e.g. RAAN) is that it will not ever solve the real problem of human sin and actual inequality. What it does is that is merely flips societal values 180 degrees. What was once lauded as social virtues like wealth, thrift, intact families, law-abiding, truthfulness etc, are now labeled as vices, while what was once scorned as social vices such as poverty, wastefulness, single parenthood, law-breaking, being illegal aliens, lying etc, are now labeled as virtues. I will not be speaking here of the many social problems with such a scheme, but merely would like to point out how this does not conform to the Gospel at all.

The Gospel is all about salvation by grace alone, which excludes works of any kind. That is why God chooses the weak, and the foolish, and the lowly, because there is nothing virtuous about being weak, being foolish and being lowly. But in a Marxist scheme with the inversion of virtue, that would make God chose the newly-minted virtuous people. In a Marxist scheme, God choose the weak, the foolish, and the lowly because they are now virtuous in their weakness, folly and lowly status. But such is a betrayal of the Gospel message of salvation by grace alone! In a Marxist scheme, the poor can now boast that God chose him because poverty is a virtue. The foolish can now boast that God chose him because folly is a virtue, and so on.

Thus, whatever problems the problem of Marxism has socially (e.g. denial of Natural law), when it comes to the Gospel, religious Marxism with its reversed virtue scheme is an assault against the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. It is thus "anti-Gospel." It is a real indication that works-righteousness is not so easily expunged from the consciousness of men that the supposedly Reformed RAAN is promoting a theory that is contrary to the Gospel. We children of Adam are forever trying to make ourselves better and more deserving of salvation, and it is this tendency to think of ourselves better than we are that we all need to repent of, continually.

God glorified through our lack: 1 Corinthians 1:25-31

Here is my latest sermon preached May 28th 2017, on 1 Corinthians 1:25-31, entitled "God glorified through our lack."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Evaluating the Bebbington Quadrilateral

The Bebbington Quadrilateral denotes the four qualities that David Bebbington claimed are characteristic of [the Old] Evangelicalism, as described in his book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London, UK: Unwin Hyman, 1989). In the book The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), various scholars interacted with Bebbington's thesis that Evangelicalism, as described having these four characteristics, originated in the 1730s and in the First Great Awakening in that era. The last chapter was a response by Bebbington to the diverse essays which interacted with his thesis, often critically. It is interesting to read Bebbington's response, to see how he dealt with critiques of his thesis and to observe whether it holds up to scrutiny.

The four characteristics of Evangelicalism are (1) Activism, (2) Conversionism, (3) Biblicism, and (4) Cruci(o)centrism. On top of that, Bebbington had asserted a discontinuity between the Puritans and the Evangelicals concerning the issue of assurance of salvation, an assertion that generated quite a lot of push-back from the various contributors to the book The Advent of Evangelicalism.

In his response, Bebbington modified his thesis to a certain degree. On the issue of assurance of salvation, Bebbington virtually concedes the point to his critics, while stating that "it seems likely that the predominant view on the subject in the seventeenth century was less confident than what was normally professed in the eighteenth" (Bebbington, "Response," in The Advent of Evangelicalism, 421-2). In his response, Bebbington rejects the identification of the notion of "activism" as indicative of Puritanism or any movement prior to Evangelicalism by focusing on an important distinction of Evangelicalism: the emergence of multiple interdenominational agencies (Bebbington, in ibid., 419, 427). On the issue of Biblicism and Crucicentrism, Bebbington focuses on the fact that Evangelicalism was all about making things simple and only for the purpose of salvation, with a corresponding downplaying of theology as an academic discipline, and of right order and discipline in the church (Bebbington, in ibid., 428, 30). On the issue of Conversionism, Bebbington focuses on the issue of revivals, and the idea and heightened expectation of revivals that permeates Evangelicalism.

While Bebbington's response focuses on his response to his critics, we can read in his response how he might have modified his quadrilateral in order to more clearly describe Evangelicalism. The almost 2-decade old definition is in line for an upgrade, and I will attempt such an upgrade in light of Bebbington's response. Instead of merely stating a belief in "activism," we should say that Evangelicalism is marked by interdenominational activism, and a downplaying of denominational difference in lieu of a unified evangelical witness. Instead of merely a belief in "Conversionism," we could say that Evangelicalism is marked by a heightened belief in and discourse of revivals. Instead of holding to Biblicism, we could say that Evangelicalism is marked by an instrumental view of doctrine and a downplaying of academic theology and theological precision. Instead of holding to Crucicentrism, we could say that Evangelicalism is marked by a focus on the doctrine of salvation and anything related to the doctrine of salvation with a de-emphasis of other theological loci.

Thus, the new "quadrilateral" can be listed as follows:

  1. Interdenominational Activism
  2. Heightened belief in Revivals
  3. Instrumental view of doctrine
  4. De-emphasis on anything not related to soteriology

It seems to me that besides new criterion number two (Belief in Revivals), which is one more of degree than of kind, the other three seem to be valid distinctives of Evangelicalism. Evangelicals of any stripe have little concerns over denominational issues, with some even attacking "denominationalism" as an evil. Evangelicals also tend to have an instrumental view of doctrine and truth, and always ask for practicality. Even those that are not anti-intellectual do not see the beauty of truth just for the fact that it is true, but that everything must be able to be put into practice. That is probably why the Doctrine of God and the Trinity are not of major importance among many Evangelicals, although Evangelicals tend to continue to preserve the orthodoxy bought and fought for by the early church.

And lastly, Evangelicals do tend to emphasize soteriology, which is why many conservative Evangelicals today can be Calvinist in soteriology yet they reject Calvin's view of baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is all about people "being saved," but what happens after salvation is of less importance in getting it right. Thus, Evangelicals will fight over getting the Gospel right such that those who get the Gospel wrong are excommunicated, but not even a tenth of that militancy will be displayed on the views of baptism and discipleship, much less church governance.

In lieu of the topic of revivals, I think it is better to focus on Evangelicalism's view of conversion as a punctiliar salvation event which marks a person's salvation. This view precludes children converted in the womb or in early childhood, and makes the focus of salvation about experiencing a "Damascus Road" type experience and less on a person's confession of faith. That is why Evangelicals love to hear about conversion testimonies. Evangelicalism does not really have a category for professing believers who do not have this experience of the new-birth, but yet claim to be Christians (except perhaps "unbelievers"?). With this view of conversion as a repetition of Paul's Damascus Road experience, the Quadrilateral could be recreated anew, as follows:

  1. Interdenominational Activism
  2. Conversion as experience
  3. Instrumental view of doctrine
  4. Soteriological primacy

[And on this note, it can be seen why I am not an Evangelical. I do not believe in interdenominational activism, conversion as necessarily an experience, neither do I hold to an instrumental view of truth and doctrine, nor the primacy of soteriology over all other doctrines.]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Is Evangelicalism Reformed? The consequences

The position of radical discontinuity in evangelicalism in the 1730s cannot be historically confirmed and is theologically dangerous, for it leaves us with the impression that Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley are the fathers of evangelicalism. The result of this controversial position is that Wesley’s Arminianism could then no longer be viewed as aberrational theology within a solidly Reformed movement. Instead, Reformed and Arminian theology would be given equal status in the origins of evangelicalism, as is often done today. [Joel R. Beeke, “Evangelicalism and the Dutch Further Reformation,” in Michael A.G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Stewart, eds., The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), 168]

In closing, I wish to step out of the realm of history by commenting briefly on the consequences of this possibility for evangelical self-understanding. If we think that evangelicalism began in the 1730s, then Wesley and Edwards become its most important fathers. This means that evangelicalism was from its origin equally divided between Reformed and Arminian theology. Neither could claim to be the mainstream doctrinal position. In this sense it is easy to see how Bebbington’s analysis serves to give a strong foothold to Arminianism within the evangelical movement by making foundational one of its most noted proponents. If, however, we reconsider the origins of evangelicalism and find that it is a Reformational and Puritan phenomenon, then the picture looks very different. (Gary J. Williams, “Enlightenment Epistemology and Eighteenth-Century Evangelical Doctrines of Assurance,” in ibid., 374)

The movement spearheaded by John Wesley, notwithstanding his predilection for antiquity, was undoubtedly novel. The historian cannot dismiss it as an aberration, because it was numerically the largest sector of the evangelical movement in Britain. (David W. Bebbington, “Response,” in ibid., 424)

Despite the theological polarity over free will, there was generally a remarkable degree of mutual respect within the diverse ranks of the evangelicals. They had a sense of belonging to a common movement in which their united proclamation of the new birth transcended doctrinal differences. … Methodists were full participants in the Evangelical Revival. Their contribution ensured that the movement as a whole was in many respects discontinuous with earlier Protestantism as well as in other ways continuous with it. (Bebbington, "Response," in ibid., 425)

Let me mention a few things, therefore, which I put into the categories of non-essentials.

One is the belief in election and predestination. Now I am a Calvinist; I believe in election and predestination; but I would not dream of putting it under the heading of essential. [Martin Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical? (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1992), 87]

Is Evangelicalism Reformed? Or rather, is Evangelicalism the overarching set in which we can fit in the Reformers, the Puritans, and then the heirs of the First and Second Great Awakening? That is a historical question with important implications for believers' self-identity. If one is Reformed, is one necessarily an Evangelical? Are Evangelicals the set that comprises all true Christian believers who believe in the biblical Gospel, as many people seem to think so today?

While I am sure there are others who have investigated this issue, David Bebbington has brought the issue of the origins of Evangelicalism into the modern spotlight in academia, with his 1989 book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. In this book, Bebbington stated that Evangelicalism has its origins in the 1730s and especially through the prominent leaders of the First Great Awakening: George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley. Evangelicalism (the "Old" version, not the "New Evangelicalism" of the 1950s) can be described as possessing four distinct traits: Conversionism (a focus on the necessity of each person to individually turn to Christ in faith for salvation), Activism (a commitment to participate with God in his saving mission in the world), Biblicism (a devotion to the Bible as the Word of God written for all of faith), and Crucicentrism (a focus on Jesus Christ and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for sins) [David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London, UK: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 5-17]. In the early 18th century, a new movement came into being that came to be Evangelicalism, a new distinct movement that was not present prior to the 18th century.

It does not take much thought to realize the implications of the Bebbington thesis for Christian self-identification. In the collection of essays edited by Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart, contributors Joel Beeke and Gary Williams pointed out the obvious implications concerning how Arminianism is to be perceived if the Bebbington thesis is to be upheld. In his response, Bebbington plainly states that [Wesleyan] Arminianism is indeed part of Evangelicalism, and points out how Evangelical Calvinists and Evangelical Arminians cooperated in Evangelical enterprises and outreaches. That Evangelical Calvinists have historically regarded the Calvinisism/ Arminianism issue as a non-essential issue is further proved by Martin Lloyd-Jones in his book What is an Evangelical?, where Lloyd-Jones equated "Evangelicals" with "believers" and therefore held that Arminian Christians who believe in the Gospel are "Evangelicals" since they are indeed saved. In other words, it seems that the implications of the "controversial position" Joel Beeke detests is indeed what Evangelicals have always held to. (I guess Beeke has to decide whether he wants to identify himself an "Evangelical," since the Bebbington thesis has some merit along that line)

Ideas and theories have practical implications, and are not limited to academia. That it takes some time for ideas in academia to trickle down to the ground is definite. The only "impractical theories" and "abstract castles in the sky" present are those that deal with things that have little if any relation to reality; everything else is practical if one actually thinks about them. Here, the practical implications of the Bebbington thesis concerns not only a believer's self-identification, but also the status of Arminianism. If one identifies as an Evangelical, it is not possible, given the Bebbington thesis, to claim Arminianism as heresy. Rather, Arminianism must be seen as a minor doctrinal error, about as errant as differences in one's views concerning the Millennium.

It is because of this understanding of history, among others, that I do not identify as an "Evangelical," but rather as Reformed. I hold to the Canons of Dordt and therefore am precluded from considering "Evangelical" as a valid self-label, even apart from all other considerations. Perhaps if Bebbington's thesis trickle towards the church then we can get a greater self-understanding among Christians.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Puritanism and Neo-puritanism

But what is omitted from this canon of Puritan literature [by the Banner of Truth –DHC] is just as revealing as what is included.

Missing are the doctrinal works of Richard Baxter that promote a ‘neonomian’ doctrine of justification, a Grotian theory of atonement, and a minimalist, ecumenical creed; the writings of Roger Williams, who believed that the restoration of true churches would have to await the emergence of end-times apostles; the works of John Milton, the great Puritan poet, who defended divorce, freedom of the press and regicide, and was almost certainly Arminian and anti-trinitarian in his later life; the political writings of the Levellers, including the separatist John Lilburne and the Baptist Richard Overton; the Arminian works of John Goodwin, one of London’s lading Puritan pastors in the mid-seventeenth century; the visions of prophetesses like Anna Trapnel; the antinomian tracts of influential figures like Tobias Crisp and John Eaton; the scores of books published by the General Baptists.

[John Coffey, “Puritanism, Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Protestant Tradition,” in Michael A.G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Stewart, eds., The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), 261]

What is Puritanism? The movement promoted by Martin Lloyd Jones and then the Banner of Truth Trust is called "neo-Puritianism" only because it seeks to recover the "Puritans" for today, yet they choose and select only the works they think are worthy to be reproduced. That is certainly good in a certain sense, since not everything that the Puritans wrote were good. Yet, if someone were to derive their knowledge of who the Puritans were and what Puritanism was about purely from the Banner of Truth republished books, they would probably not get an accurate understanding of what Puritanism actually is.

Thus, many people might have the idea that Puritanism is about moving deeper into godly living based upon true doctrine. In other words, now that the first and second generation Reformers have gotten the Gospel right, subsequent generations of believers in the Reformed Church, both the Puritans and the Dutch Further Reformation, were all about working out how to apply the orthodox Gospel in godly piety. Certainly, nobody would want to minimize the doctrinal advancement of subsequent generations of the Reformed Church on doctrine, but rather the impression is given that the focus of such subsequent movements in Puritanism was on practice and piety. Thus the question was, "Having gotten justification by faith right, what things ought to be done in order that we might live to glorify God?"

Such a portrait of Puritanism is however wrong. On the one hand, Puritanism is a much more diverse movement, and Anglicans like Archbishop James Ussher are doctrinally in the Puritan camp. Thus, it is not true that Puritanism was all about godly living. Rather, the only thing that can be said definitively about Puritanism is that it was committed to further reform of the Church [Crawford Gribben, The Puritan Millennium: Literature and Theology, 1550-1682 (Studies in Christian History and Thought; Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 8], not that it was about godly piety. Neo-Puritanism may be good for the church, but it is not the same as Puritanism. Again, the republished books by Banner of Truth Trust are good and edifying, but they cannot be counted on to accurately portray what Puritanism actually is.

On the other hand, it is a terrible historiography to sharply dichotomize between the first generations of Reformers and their spiritual heirs, as if they have radically different emphases and focuses. Luther and Calvin were concerned with godly living too (Luther against the Fanatics, and Calvin against the Libertines), while the Puritans of Reformed convictions were concerned about doctrine too (against Arminianism and Socinianism). It is not accurate to say that the Reformers reformed doctrine, while the Puritans reformed piety. Certainly, times change and challenges differ, but both the Reformers and the Puritans were resolute in combating both false doctrine and impiety. There is after all no true separation between right doctrine and godly living. Those who have one without the other are defective in both at best.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The "foolishness of preaching"

ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν, εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας (1 Cor. 1:21 -BGT)

For it is because in the wisdom of God the world did not know, through its wisdom, God, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:21. Own translation)

How does one translate the Greek genitival phrase τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος? Is it an objective genitive, subjective genitive, adjectival or reverse adjectival genitive? Therein lies part of the beauty of such Greek phrases, which cannot be translated into English, and many other languages, without an attempt to decide how the genitival relation between "foolishness" and "preaching" is to be understood.

Various English translations have translated the phrase differently. The KJV decided to leave the ambiguity as it is by just literally stating it as "the foolishness of preaching." The NIV and ESV and even the NKJV decided to resolve the ambiguity by interpreting the phrase as an objective genitive and thus interpret the phrase as stating that it is the content of the preaching that is foolishness to the world. But is that a correct interpretation of the phrase? Surely it is the most natural understanding in our modern scientific context, but is that what Paul is trying to convey to us?

We note here the larger context of the phrase as describing the means by which someone can come to know God. The world, utilizing the instrument of its own wisdom, has shown itself unable to come to know God. In contrast, the "foolishness of preaching" is the instrument that God uses so that sinners who believe can come to know God. That is the contrast the verse is putting forward. The world's wisdom, versus the "foolishness of preaching." The people of the world, her philosophers, utilize their thinking and their wisdom to create empires and ideology, and ultimately the entire modern world with the modern nation-state and science and technology. But despite the greatness of the world's wisdom, the world cannot come to know God.

The question for us then is whether the interpretation taken by many modern translations of the Bible is correct. Certainly, on a theological level, what is preached, the Gospel message, is foolishness to the world. Saying that it is the message preached that is the foolishness that saves, or saying that it the act of preaching that is the foolishness that saves, are both true. And certainly grammatically, there is nothing wrong with translating that particular phrase as an objective genitive instead of a subjective genitive. But which interpretation fits better for our text? Since the "foolishness of preaching" is contrasted with the world's wisdom, and thus the "wisdom of the world," it is better for the phrase "foolishness of preaching" to be a subjective genitive just like the phrase "wisdom of the world" is a subjective genitive. Moreover, does the world just throw propositions in an attempt to come to know God? Or rather, they engage in the act of reasoning using their reason in an attempt to come to know God. Likewise, just as the means of wisdom is thinking, so the means of "foolishness" must be an action as well, which corresponds to preaching.

The phrase in 1 Corinthians 1:21, the "foolishness of preaching," therefore in my opinion should be best translated as the "the foolishness of the usage of preaching." Certainly it is true that the mere act of preaching is an issue, since Greeks love orations and speeches. But rather, it is the act of preaching as the instrument for salvation that is foolishness to the world. For if you want to "make friends and influence people," and even more, save the souls of men, would anyone past and present consider preaching to be a valid means to bring a person to salvation? Sophists engage in orations to entertain their audiences with their eloquence. Philosophers engage in dialogues (e.g. the Socratic model) to convince people of their truth. Many people today prefer the use of drama and multimedia presentations to bring the Bible stories "to life." (Since when was the Bible ever dead?) But God has ordained the means of preaching unto salvation, foolish though it seems to the world.

As those called to proclaim His Word, pastors therefore ought to stand firm in their conviction of the necessity of biblical preaching, not for mere instruction but also to save souls. It is in the faithful preaching of God's Word, Sunday after Sunday, where the Holy Spirit will most certainly work in the hearts of its hearers. While God can use any other means, we should not think that our "ministry" in workplaces or elsewhere is any substitute for biblical preaching, and most certainly should not have the expectancy that God will certainly work in those extra-ecclesial gatherings. For pastors, the burden to correctly parse and proclaim our Lord's work is heavy when one pauses to see its importance, so let us not treat this lightly but seriously, so that we may handle such a privilege and responsibility with reverence and godly fear.

The Paradox of the Faith: 1 Corinthians 1:17-25, 2:1-5

On April 30th, I have had the privilege of proclaiming God's Word from 1 Corinthians 1:17-25, 2:1-5. It took some time for the sermon to be uploaded to Providence's website, so I have only checked it and found it recently. You can hear it here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

One African-American woman's musings against RAAN types

Over on her blog, Alicia posted some of her thoughts on RAAN and their unhelpful attacks on race relations. As a black woman, her musings show us a perspective that RAAN would rather not others read about.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Last thoughts on the Kong Hee case post-appeal

As I have mentioned months earlier, I do believe that City Harvest "pastor" Kong Hee is indeed guilty in regards to his church's finances, but Christians especially should not be rejoicing in his conviction, and we should differentiate clearly between what is immoral and what is illegal.

In light of the reduced sentence verdict arrived at by the Singapore Court, there has been a lot of outrage from Singaporeans. Now, whether the sentences are fair or unfair is a matter for judges to decide. But what is indeed revealing in many of these comments is the utter lack of distinction between morality and legality. Something can be immoral, yet legal, and vice versa. Adultery is immoral, but the law does not penalize adulterers. Abortion is immoral, but in many countries including Singapore, it is legal. Conversely, in France, telling the truth about abortion is illegal, while it is actually moral to tell the truth about abortion. In other words, there is no necessary correlation between morality and legality. That there ought to be such a relation is an assertion worth arguing about, but even if there should be a relation does not imply that there IS currently such a relation.

It is on this matter that much of the online outrage concerning Kong Hee is disturbing. Is it immoral for a pastor to live like a king? Yes, I think it is. But is it illegal? No! Is it immoral for a pastor to fleece people of their money for his own enrichment? Yes. But if the followers willingly give up their money for their pastor to live such a lifestyle, of their own free will and knowing that is how he uses the money, then how is it illegal for the pastor to use his followers' money in such a way? Is it immoral for Kong Hee to run the church like a corporate dictatorship? Yes, and contrary to the Scriptures too. But if the church members agree that this is how their church should be run, and such is not contrary to their own constitution, then it seems there is nothing illegal here either.

That is why, no matter how reprehensible I think Kong Hee's actions may be, I do not think he should be charged with anything beyond basic criminal breech of trust. The civil laws of a nation can and should only judge what is illegal, not necessarily what is immoral (unless what is immoral is also illegal). Lex Rex! The Law is King. That is what is meant for any country to be ruled by the law. If people think that any of these immoral actions taken by Kong Hee should be punished, then go ahead and try to introduce legislation to criminalize such actions. But unless and until such is done, there is absolutely no basis for anyone to clamor for greater sentencing of Kong Hee and company.